DND's P500-M proposed cybersecurity budget undermined by AFP-Dito deal â Hontiveros
File photo shows a cell tower.
The STAR/File
DND's P500-M proposed cybersecurity budget undermined by AFP-Dito deal — Hontiveros
Bella Perez-Rubio (Philstar.com) - October 14, 2020 - 6:00pm

MANILA, Philippines —  A senator flagged the Department of National Defense's proposed P500 million budget for cybersecurity in 2021, citing the military's controversial agreement with a China firm-backed telco player which many perceive to be a threat to vital Philippine data. 

"Be circumspect. Isn't it foolish to allow a foreign entity, one with which we have territorial disputes, to put up a telco inside our military camps and then eventually spend for their potential cyberattacks?" Sen. Risa Hontiveros said. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other officials of the DND on Monday faced a Senate panel deliberating on the department's proposed budget for 2021.

The panel ultimately decided to bring DND's budget to the plenary. 

Hontiveros was referring to a recently-inked deal between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Dito Telecommunity Corp which allows the company to build cell towers inside military camps.

Last month, Antonio Carpio, former senior associate justice at the Supreme Court, added his voice to opposition, saying it was “very dumb” to allow Dito to construct towers on army camps. “You ask any security analyst who’s familiar with cybersecurity, and they will tell you, absolutely do not allow towers to be installed in your military camps," he told CNN Philippines' "The Source."

Since winning the bid to become the country’s third telco provider, President Rodrigo Duterte’s long-term fix to the sloppy telco service, Dito has been hounded by criticism. Specifically, the firm being owned by Dennis Uy, a Davao tycoon and campaign financer, who receives favored treatment from the government, and its China connection, have been the subject of much scrutiny. 

"There is a red flag being waved over the agreement between the [AFP] and the China-owned Dito telco but the DND is turning a blind eye. The P500 million they are asking for to fight Chinese cyberattacks may just run out when, in fact, they can at the onset ban them immediately from our camps," Hontiveros said in Filipino. 

Dito has repeatedly stressed its Filipino affiliation and downplayed privacy concerns even after the Chinese Communist Party moved to tighten its grip on China's private enterprises.

"Dito is run by Filipinos. When you talk about the management and operations of Dito, we would never allow classified information to be provided to any country,” Adel Tamano, chief administrative officer, said in an interview with the same CNN Philippines program last month. 

"China Tel, one of Dito's investors, is 100% owned by China," Hontiveros stressed. 

She also previously flagged existing security laws in China which require corporations to support intelligence-gathering efforts. On Wednesday, she renewed her call on the Senate to probe the controversial deal. 

AFP maintains deal with Dito is 'low risk' 

Gen. Gilbert Gapay, AFP chief, during an online forum hosted by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines reiterated the army's stance that the risks posed by allowing Dito to build cell towers inside military camps are low. 

"We have jamming technologies. We can control them more when they’re inside rather than when they’re outside," he said. 

However, Hontiveros warned partially in Filipino: "This is not just the intervention of an ordinary company. This is the intervention of the Chinese Communist Party, their own Politburo. The security threat is so obvious that it is rather naive to diminish this concern." Politburos are the policy-making committes of communist parties. 

"Why is China's threat once again underestimated right inside the camps? Does the DND have any plans to stand up against China? Even the defense of the West Philippine Sea is left to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). Diplomacy is always the best option but the DND must prepare our capacity to repel attacks on all fronts - be it in our waters, on land, in the air, or even in our cyberspaces," she added in English and Filipino.  

Gapay, during the same online conference characterized the situation at South China Sea as "volatile and uncertain," contradicting Lorenzana who told senators on Monday that the situation was "stable" and "manageable."

AFP CHINA DITO TELECOM MILITARY
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